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Two women on Wine: A few food words — wine terms made simple

From body to balance, you can talk the talk

Posted: March 26, 2009 5:31 p.m.
Updated: March 27, 2009 6:00 a.m.

Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier Two Women on Wine

 
Like any business or industry, the world of wine has its own vocabulary. With dozens of wine terms to choose from, we've compiled a list of those we think are practical.

Being able to "speak wine," even a few terms, in a restaurant or wine shop can be very helpful. Much like knowing a little bit of Italian can be useful when visiting Rome.

Let's start with "body," as in light, medium or full-bodied. Body refers to the weight and fullness of the wine's content in taste and feel as it crosses the palate.

To determine the body of the wine think of a glass of milk: two percent milk might be considered light bodied, whole milk considered medium bodied, and half and half considered full bodied.

Wines higher in alcohol and more concentrated, like most Rhône wines and California zinfandels, have more body and would be in the category of medium to full-bodied. Pinot noir are typically light-bodied.

Before you even taste a wine, you see it in the glass. Swirling the glass to aerate the wine will reveal the wine's "legs" or "tears," which refers to how the swirled wine runs down the bowl of the glass.

A fuller-bodied wine will run more slowly than a lighter-bodied wine.

Legs or tears are indicators of high alcohol content in the wine.

As you're about to sip the wine, you first sense through your nose what it smells like. It's no surprise that this is called the "nose" of a wine.

As you describe what you smell, you're talking about the wine's "aroma" or "bouquet." A sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, for instance, has a very distinct aroma of grapefruit on the nose.

How a wine tastes will depend on many factors, including alcohol content and "tannins." Tannin comes from the skin of the grape, which is why red wine generally is more tannic than white.

A wine with a lot of tannins causes a drying, mouth-puckering sensation and might even have a bitter taste. California cabernet and French Bordeaux are good examples of wines with firm tannins.

There are plenty of terms to describe how a wine tastes or feels on the palate. Terms such as "acidic," "delicate," "jammy," "berry-like," and "spicy" are self-explanatory.

Two of the most common terms, "dry" and "sweet," are also easy to grasp. But others such as "angular" take a bit of figuring out.

A wine can be "angular" if it lacks smoothness or roundness and depth, and is too acidic.

Terms like "forward," which is used to describe a well-developed, mature wine, are so subjective that they are hard to get a handle on. Carmenere from Chile is generally spicy as is an Australian shiraz.

Some full-bodied wines are said to be "beefy" or "chewy" because they have an intense, dense character along with higher alcohol content. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, for example, can be a beefy or chewy wine.

A good wine with lots of subtle scents and flavors is often described as "complex." An "elegant" wine will often be white and lighter-styled. Wines - red or white - that have depth and richness of flavor are said to be "deep" or "concentrated." A French Bordeaux is often considered complex and concentrated.

A sip of wine can have an "aftertaste," also known as "length" or "finish." This is the taste left on the palate after the wine has been swallowed. The length of the finish can be long (superior) or short (inferior). To determine a wine's finish, ask yourself whether the taste lingers or drops off.

And finally, one of the most important traits in a wine is "balance." When all the wine's elements - acidity, fruit, and tannin - come together in beautiful harmony, the wine has good balance.

Cheers!

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